I love you, Dublin. I’m proud to be in Dublin. I think the best show of the tour is gonna be here in Dublin, Ireland.
All phrases that one Aubrey Drake Graham repeats tonight, the only Irish stop on his Would You Like a Tour? tour. The deafening roars in response indicate the feeling is mutual, but Drake doesn’t set out to really earn the O2’s affection. It’s more of a charm offensive – and one of the most cynical order, filled with throwaway promises and empty declarations of love – than a performance. The potential for something more is always there: never delivered upon, but it’s enough for this crowd to whip themselves into a frenzy that ultimately becomes self-sustaining. They feed off his platitudes and cry-wolf posturing and he feeds off their baseless adulation. It’s a hollow symbiosis based on reciprocal narcissism.
Emerging at the top of the stage for ‘Tuscan Leather’, he hits the stage with all the enthusiasm and hustler spirit of a QVC salesman. The song itself, 2013’s best hookless ode to Tom Ford fragrances, is only with us for a brief time before ‘Headlines’ intrudes, setting the pattern for the night. There’s no time for complete tracks. Snippets of songs are deployed, the O2 gets delirious in recognition, and then it’s on to the next one.
The Weeknd re-emerges for ‘Crew Love’ having earlier put on a set of stadium-sized professionalism. The formerly reclusive Abel Tesfaye has become a competent if bland performer in a short amount of time. He has the voice of a young Michael Jackson, a set of lungs that can truly fill this air hangar of a venue, but he’s held back by a risk-averse style, beholden to call-and-response tactics and sterile musical backing that has scrubbed all the glitter and grime from House of Balloons and the diminished returns of his later output.
When it’s over, they hug and compliments are exchanged before Drake plucks an Irish flag from the front row. To put the laziness of this show in perspective, what ensues is a medley of various guest verses Drake has done over the years – ‘Pop That’, ‘No New Friends’, ‘Good Kush and Alcohol’, ‘I’m on One’. When he leaves the stage later on, we get the same thing. The DJ hypes up the crowd while playing bits of ‘Over’, ‘Take Care’, ‘Forever’ et al. It’s all about highlights. With no patience for the more vulnerable, confessional parts of his discography, Drake blazes from hook to hook, desperate to keep the crowd amped up and in his corner.
It’s as if Drake is the audience, and, for him, the audience is the show. The only way we can keep him entertained is to feed his ego with mass cheering, but he resorts to extreme measures for his encore. During the undeniable ‘Hold on, We’re Going Home’, he pulls a girl out of the crowd ‘Dancing in the Dark’ style. The song is uncharacteristically drawn out so Drake can serenade this Courteney Cox wannabe’s chest; not only is it immensely creepy for most, but what should be a highlight is undone by self-indulgence and severe discomfort of the moment.
He outdoes himself after ‘The Language/305 to My City’, however, when he boards a ring of metallic scaffolding suspended above the audience. He shouts-out various crowd members for the next 20 minutes, bringing this self-congratulatory love-in down to a micro level. It’s all quite bizarre, a bit worrying, and wholly laughable when he starts reading out fan-made signs. “Drake, you can pound my cake” is a particular favourite of his, it seems.
‘Worst Behaviour’, ‘Fucking Problems’ and ‘HYFR’ all at least show a desire on Drake’s part to extend himself beyond just being Drake on stage, routinely referencing what city he is in. He actually attacks his verses with something resembling ferocity, which is always welcome. Finishing with ‘Started from the Bottom’, you can see what he’s going for. The O2 tonight is Drake’s “whole fucking team” to his mind, but for two hours he treats it as his echo chamber.
If you shout a little louder, he’ll cherish you more than those audiences in London/Manchester/Birmingham/Liverpool/wherever. Just take his word for it and ask nothing more.
Image by Olga Kuzmenko.